Saber Marionette J is one of those anomaly anime titles in that it is one of the most well known anime series to come out of the mid nineties and have a rather large fan base around the world, but at the same time be well, rather lackluster in both story and execution.
Terra II, a planet far removed from Earth and the new bastion of mankind. Literally. 300 years ago the human colony ship Mesopotamia suffered a major disaster, killing almost all onboard apart from six male workers that managed to escape down to planet-side using an emergency escape pod. These six now found themselves in the unenviable position of having no female contact, no method of producing the female gene through their advanced cloning technology, and most importantly of all, no way of getting home.
Skip forward three centuries and Terra II is now well-populated, with the land split in six distinctive countries, each ruled by a direct descendant clone of one of the original six. Without females living alongside them, man has come up with the marionette, essentially a robotic servant shaped in the form of a human female. However, these excuses for a human are exactly that – an excuse, beings devoid of emotion, feelings or even spirit. In short, marionettes are simply there for mankind’s entertainment and use.
However, a few chance encounters leaves one hardworking, sod of the earth boy, Otaru Mamiya in possession of three rather unique and mysterious marionettes, Lime, Cherry and Bloodberry. Each marionette possesses a so-called ‘Maiden Circuit’ which for some strange reason has gifted these three with almost human personalities and emotions. It is now up to Otaru, on the behest of his Shogun to live with these three strange marionettes and attempt to ‘grow’ them in the ways of the human and in turn allow them to slowly fall in love with the man that freed them from their long sleep.
But the peaceful status quo on Terra II shall not remain so for much longer. Faust, leader of Gartland has finally amassed his forces such that they are now finally strong enough to attempt to takeover the world – something that Japoness, and Otaru Mamiya in particular, just simply can’t allow!
Saber Marionette J was first released back in 1996 under the directorship of one Masami Shimoda. The series ran for a total of 25 episodes before going on to spawn a number of successful sequels and OVAs.
Truthfully, as any show created in the past that features some sort of technology, a lot of the hardware and concepts pushed forward by Saber Marionette J has aged quite badly, but once you look past it then you quickly discover that the show is more about love and the relationships formed between Otaru and his three marionettes than anything else. All this is then slathered in some fine slapstick humour and gags, and then fine-tuned with a fair bit of action sequences, just to make the show that more lively.
The animation is pretty standard for the era but does feature some interesting character designs which makes it fairly unique on the eye. Unfortunately there is quite a bit of animation reuse and shortcuts employed (as was the norm back then), but overall Saber Marionette J certainly isn’t badly produced or animated.
There are some particularly annoying sound effects (like Lime’s constantly squeaking shoes for example), but in general the sound effects are quite nicely done with a good backing from a fairly solid and enjoyable musical score. Similarly, the voice actors do put in some pretty good performances so there really isn’t all that much to complain about on the aural front.
The only real problem I have with the show is that it could really have been that much more special if it hadn’t focused so much on pushing forward some really silly humour and some really cheesy relationship moments, but to be fair the story does have a goal that it wants to reach and by the end of the series Shimoda pulls all the story elements and plot lines quite nicely together, presenting us with quite a decent story twist and then ending up on quite the big bang finale.
In summary, Saber Marionette J is really one of those anime titles that you either enjoy or don’t. I for one didn’t really get all that much out of it, feeling that the humour was way to forced, as was the general themes of love and relationships, but then, I would be arguing against a rather large tide of fans across the world. So perhaps it really is best that you catch this anime classic for yourself and make up your own mind.
I generally find that the best way of doing things anyway :)
Related link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saber_Marionette_J